Space capsule bites the asteroid dust

Remote South Australians were treated to a glittering light show across the midnight sky last week as an international space capsule landed nearby the outback town of Woomera.

The landing marked the end of a six billion kilometre journey across the cosmos for Japanese space capsule Hayabusa, which has since been recovered by a team of scientists from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), NASA and the Australian National University.

The team launched Hayabusa, an Asteroid Explorer, in 2003. Two years later, it had successfully landed on the Itokawa asteroid, where scientists hope the capsule collected samples from the asteroid’s surface.

Asteroids are thought to preserve information from the time of the solar system’s formation. Researchers hope Hayabusa will be carrying the first ever sample from an asteroid, which could hold clues to the early history of the solar system and how planets are formed.

It is also believed the data could help reduce the threat of asteroid collisions in the future.

On re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere, the mothercraft burnt up shortly after releasing the parachute-clad sample return capsule, which remained in tact.  The collected sample will be transferred to Japan soon where it will be analysed at the JAXA campus.

To learn more about the science of the landing, including how the sample capsule overcame atmospheric heat on re-entry without burning up, click here.

To read more about the Itokawa asteroid, click here and to find out more about other Australian space activities visit www.space.gov.au.

Watch video footage of the re-entry filmed by NASA here:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfYA4f-AIL0

Photo credit: The sample return capsule and parachute – taken by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency